Marriage Matching over Five Centuries in China
In the marriage market, families make investments on behalf of their young so that they are able to form a household with their preferred partner. We analyze marriage markets in a central region of China between about 1300 and 1850 through the lens of a model of marriage matching and intergenerational transmission of inequality. For both female and male children, marriage patterns are far from being random, instead, there is positive assortative matching. This is present for the entire income distribution, though at the highest levels matching on income is thirty times of what it is at low income levels. Over the sample period the degree of matching falls, and more so for young females, although from a lower level than young males. Lower marriage matching in the 18th and 19th centuries is accompanied by lower inequality across households, yielding a positive time series correlation between sorting and inequality. There are also intergenerational matching returns. Children of parents who are strongly matched tend to be able to marry into relatively high-income in-law families, conditional on the incomes in both the father's and the mother's families. Matching in the parent generation pays off more strongly for male than for female children. Second, marriage matching by the parents raises child income. Thus, parental marriage investments affect the income distribution from one generation to the next. Finally, we show that intergenerational matching returns have declined over the sample period, further strengthening evidence that incentives for parental marriage investments in China became weaker over time.
Financial support from NIH and NSF under grants NICHD Award HD042731-01 and SMA Award 1360207, respectively, is gratefully acknowledged. Thanks to Ted Telford for parts of the data. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.